As you know, we nerds believe the most memorable experience ever is a Disney vacation with your closest family and friends.
You can’t deny the feeling of walking through the front gates first thing in the morning.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult.
A sense of fun and wonder will overtake you.
So we know that a Disney vacation is a great experience.
Millions of people can’t deny that fact.
However, to make sure your Disney experience is perfect, you have to make a plan.
Which is why we put together this guide to the best way to plan a Disney vacation.
Introducing the best way to plan a Disney vacation in 11 steps
In this guide showing you the best way to plan a Disney vacation you’ll learn the four key ways to plan for to have the most awesome experience ever.
It doesn’t matter if you’re going with a small group or large.
First, if you’re flying in to Florida, you’ll need to know what airport to fly into for Disney World.
Also, this guide is for all the Disney parks.
1. Choose Your Travel Buddies
Disney Park Nerds love going on a Disney vacation and traveling to Disney parks with (and sometimes without) the Nerdlings.
On occasion, grand-parents and other family/friends may be invited.
Generally, though, we choose the “core” group first and invite people once the other steps have been completed.
Once you’ve figured out which folks are worth planning around, it’s time to…
2. How long are you visiting?
First step in figuring out the best way to plan a Disney vacation is to know how long you want to go for?
After you know how long you would like to go for, you need to pick which Disney park you would like to visit.
Obviously, if you’re in either Florida or California, it’ll be cheaper for you to visit the Disney park in your state.
Why do you need to know this?
Well there are multiple parks within each of the main Disney parks.
For example, Disneyland California has two parks, the main Disneyland and California Adventure. Disneyland California is a bit easier for people to visit.
Plus, there are Disney World water parks to enjoy!
So after you’ve picked with Disney park to visit, you have a better understanding of how many days you’ll need to visit in order to comfortably have the best experience possible.
A good thing to know is when there are more discounts for the longer you stay.
Additional Reading: 12 Best Attractions in Hollywood Studios
3. Plan when you’re going to go
The second step to figuring out the best way to plan a Disney vacation is to pick the right time to go.
As you probably already know, Disney parks have different busy and quiet times throughout the year.
If you’re lucky enough to pick when you go on vacation, definitely don’t pick to go during any of the peak seasons.
While Disney parks have started setting crowd control measures in place, such as FastPasses, Genie Plus, and Virtual Queues… it’s still a good idea to avoid crowds when and where you can.
Imagine spending 50% of your time waiting in line at the Disney parks. Not a great idea.
Times and seasons to generally avoid visiting any of the Disney parks are Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, 4th of July, or Labor Day.
TIP: If there is a three-day weekend at your kids school, it’s probably not the best time to visit Disneyland if you’re avoiding crowds.
If you would like to avoid a TON of people at Disneyland you’ll want to visit in an off season if you can.
Of course this will differ if you’re visiting California or Orlando.
Overall, during the middle of the week when most kids are in school is the best time to visit Disneyland.
This means pretty much avoiding summer and weekends.
That typically means:
- late August – November
- late January – March
- late April – early June
The weather is usually pretty mild for both Orlando and California as so you won’t have to worry about sweating your life away or freezing during your Disney vacation.
Date selection, perhaps more than anything else, will have the biggest impact on your Disney vacation.
The Disney Park Nerds will go to great lengths to avoid crowds; this is the top priority for us when planning a trip to a Disney park.
An added bonus is that this typically comes with lower prices.
Of course, gather the availability of those with whom you plan to travel.
From there, we always start off by considering local holidays.
That’s right – we are more focused on the holidays for locals who will visit the park than our own holidays!
Purchasing access to their site is a wise investment in your vacation and their prices are both reasonable and have a money-back guarantee.
For some, a Disney vacation is incomplete if the park is not decorated for Halloween or Christmas.
Perhaps there is a festival or other special event.
It’s also a good idea to reference rides that are scheduled to be close for refurbishment to ensure you and your travel party do not miss a “must see”.
Some resorts, like the Tokyo Disney Resort often post their refurbishment schedule as much as 6 months in advance.
Other places like the Walt Disney World Resort provide this list in conjunction with their calendar – generally 2 or 3 months in advance.
In either case, be sure to keep monitoring this list up until your vacation so your expectations are properly set upon arrival.
Crowds are one element of date selection as they impact your enjoyment of the parks and the price you will pay for flights, lodging, tickets, etc.
Another crucial element of when to travel is weather.
We Nerds prefer it cool (maybe not quite “cold”) for theme park touring and we have experienced very mild, very cold (highs in the 30s and 40s) and very hot (highs in the upper 90s) on a Disney vacation.
We know you know, but mild is where it’s at!
Like any vacation, grab your favorite weather app or web page and take a look at expected weather for the dates you are considering.
Using this information, we generally piece together a date range of options.
Sometimes, the dates fit snuggly and the dates are the dates.
Other times, there is a range and we let the price or availability of transportation and/or the hotels break the tie.
So, now we are on to…
4. Where are you staying?
The third best way to plan a Disney vacation is to pick a comfortable hotel to stay at.
Around most Disney parks are a plethora of hotels and options for staying.
We recommend to not go for the cheapest option.
Nothing like a stinky room or bad service outside of the park will ruin your Disney vacation faster.
Yes, it can be difficult to pay slightly above average to stay at a nice hotel, but think of it as part just another part of your Disney vacation experience.
Where you sleep and wake up has a huge effect on your comfort and mood when you enter the park.
If you want a full Disney experience, we recommend staying at a Disney-owned hotel.
Yes, these can be expensive.
But when you stay at a Disney-owned park, you’re going to get a lot of perks you normally wouldn’t staying further away from the park.
First, when you stay at a Disney-owned hotel. You’ll most likely not have to walk far to get into the parks. In fact, some Disney hotels have a dedicated secret entrances into the parks. For example, when you stay the the Grand Californian, you’ll be able to walk directly into California Adventure and try some of the best food in Disneyland California Adventure.
If you aren’t interested in perks or are planning a last-minute Disney vacation, it may be best to explore other accommodation options. Which there are plenty of. There are a lot of Disney-approved hotels that work in close relation to Disney. Often delivering just as high of standards.
If you are visiting Disneyland, many hotels are right outside and are well within walking distance to the parks.
RELATED: 10 Amazing Hotels Near Disneyland
This makes everything easier if you are visiting from out of town or don’t have a rental car or if you want to take a mid-day break at your hotel pool.
Disney World resort is near Orlando and Kissimmee. Which is good to know if you’re looking for hotels not owned by Disney (which will be easier on the wallet).
However, since Disney World can be out of walking distance from off-site hotels, we recommend finding out if your accommodation offers transportation in the form of a bus or shuttle.
RELATED: The Best Hotels Disney World Florida: The Nerds Top Five
5. Lock Down Transportation
If you are driving, this is pretty easy.
If you are renting a car or flying be sure to take a look at all of your options.
Aggregators like Kayak are often great ways to gain quick insight into your options.
Kayak is also great for comparing and pricing out rental cars.
However, our two favorite options to select a rental car are Costco Travel (membership required) and AutoSlash.
We can rarely, if ever, beat the prices at one of these two sites and any savings, without sacrificing quality, is welcomed news on a Disney vacation.
6. Select Your Hotel
Choosing the right hotel will have an impact on your Disney vacation.
Things to consider will include cost including parking and resort fees, distance from the parks and travel time, size, bed configuration.
Then, there is the whole “on property” vs “off property” discussion – generally surrounding each item mentioned above.
As a general rule, we are fans of staying on Disney property whenever feasible because we think it is a more seamless Disney vacation.
And we don’t shy away from recommending what we think is the best value out of these Disney World hotels.
The Disney Resorts range from two on-site hotels at the Shanghai Disney Resort to more than 30 at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Once you have honed in on your hotel selection, don’t book it just yet. Next, let’s…
7. Select Your Tickets
Before actually purchasing tickets, we need to figure out our travel plan. Here are a few critical questions:
- How many days do you want to visit parks?
- Is park hopping important to you?
- Are there any other Disney venues you plan to visit (e.g. water parks, miniature golf courses, etc)
The Disney Park Nerds believe it is prudent to once again consult Touring Plans and, using their touring plans, sketch out an idea of what you might accomplish in a day at each park. This will help guide you as to how many days are needed at each. Questions to consider:
- Are you an “opening to close” theme park group?
- Do you want to take naps and/or pool breaks?
- Is sit-down dining important to you?
Answers to questions like these will help influence your decision on how much time you want to dedicate to each park.
Once you have decided this, compare prices from Disney, your hotel (if off property) and official ticket brokers.
READ MORE: 7 Best Disney World Resorts for Adults
8. Quick Price Comparisons (optional)
Armed with your travel companions, dates, transportation plans, hotel, tickets/days in each park schedule, we’d recommend a quick price check (Blue Light Special on Aisle 5?).
Sketch out the costs of booking a la carte vs. a package.
We discuss how packages can sometimes be quite a bit more expensive without much benefit in our Easy Disney World Vacation Tip #1 – Packages vs a la Carte article.
Reference sites that focus on discounts like MouseSavers.com where you can find links to deals for your Disney vacation.
9. Make Your Purchases and Prepare for Fun!
Hopefully, you have enough information to get the details mapped out for your Disney vacation.
It’s time to click “check-out” on your cart and let the moment sink in….you’re going on a DISNEY VACATION!!
10. Make a park plan
The fourth step to figuring out how to plan a Disney vacation is to pick which parks you want to visit.
You make have picked Florida or California, now comes the hard part. Picking which parks within the parks you’re going to visit.
You can also focus on eating at quick service restaurants.
If you’re going to Disneyland in California, just make it easier on yourself – go to both Disneyland and California Adventure. Especially if you plan on spending more than one day there.
We recommend going to both because you can easily see everything in either park in one day.
So why not dedicate each day to each of the parks.
Now if you’re planning on visiting Disney World for a few days, you really need to plan which of the parks you’re going to dedicate your time to.
As you can easily spend an entire month eating and riding your way through Disney World.
You’ll definitely want to have a plan down to what ride and when you’re going to ride it.
This way you’re going to not only make everyone happy, but also avoid over analysis paralysis. Which can definitely take over if you’re making a decision of what to do in the moment. Also, if you don’t have a plan for what to do in Disney World you’ll easily waste a lot of time.
This can be fun.
Actually sitting down and deciding what everyone wants to ride and eat weeks and months before you head to Disney World.
Building up the excitement!
Also, while you’re in the midst of planning rides, don’t forget about researching your things like shows, parades, and fireworks.
All of which won’t let you down.
RELATED: How to plan a Disney vacation for cheap
Making a park plan can seem daunting, which is why I plan all of my trips out with the Touring Plans website and app.
You can input your dates and use one of their touring plans based on the ages of your family or you can customize your own.
I recently discovered that the plans also work for hard ticket events like the Halloween and Christmas parties.
Prepping for a day at Disney, where to start, what to pack, how to prep! It can be overwhelming, let the Nerds break it down for you.
Use the Disney Memory Maker to capture your Disney vacations best moments.
Prepping for a Day at Disney: Download the App
Once you’ve selected your date to head to your Disney park of choice, download the app. Each park has it’s own specific app so you can have your ticket available, check out the fast pass situation for the day, make dining reservations and more all BEFORE you step foot in the park.
Using the app you’ll be able to see if rides are down or restaurants are unavailable. This will help in the next step, making a list of all the things you want to do that day which is essential in prepping for a day at Disney.